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Surprise Your Sweetheart With a Valentine's Day-cation

You don’t have to travel far to make this romantic holiday special. Our expert tips will help you uncover deals close to home.

It’s a week before Valentine’s Day, and you haven’t had time to even think about making plans with your sweetie. No need to fret! There are dozens of ways to have a special, romantic weekend right in your hometown without spending a fortune.

We asked three travel experts to help us come up with fun, inexpensive, charming ways to make this Valentine’s Day celebration one to remember.

Act like a tourist

Exploring your hometown can be as rewarding as traveling elsewhere, without the expense or the stress. “The reason why things seem everyday and ordinary in your hometown is because they’re part of a routine, but visitors are excited by them,” says Ethan Gelber, co-founder of the LocalTravelMovement.com. “To get something special and romantic from your city, simply break your routine and try something different.”

Kate Gibbs, media relations manager at Destination DC, agrees. “Do something you’ve never done before, like rent a boat, pack a picnic and spend the day on the water,” she says.

If you want to save money and avoid crowds, Gibbs suggests looking to off-season activities, such as renting a kayak in February. Or, do the opposite: Take advantage of the volume by dining out. “Many restaurants offer prix-fixe, three-course menus under $30 each for Valentine’s Day,” Gibbs says.

Identify your shared passions

What do you and your spouse enjoy doing together, especially when you’re on vacation? Are you outdoorsy? Do you enjoy the arts? Are you history buffs?

“If you’re excited by adventure or sports or food when you travel, seek out those things in your hometown,” Gelber says. “Visit a local farm, work in a vineyard, go for a bike ride. These types of activities really draw you into a place and make you understand it in a way you didn’t before.”

This doesn’t mean avoiding the list of usual must-sees on every tourist’s checklist. Rather, look at them with a different set of eyes, Gelber says. Ask yourself, “Is this activity or place going to reveal something I didn’t know about our city?” If you live in the New York area, for example, go to Times Square to see a show, but eat at a local restaurant, not the Hard Rock Café.

Jennifer Lotz, manager of communications and PR at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, seconds that notion. “A big part of our campaign is reminding people that your city is special,” says Lotz, who recommends that locals there take advantage of typical tourist options, such as walking to Café du Monde to get beignets and café au lait. “It costs less than $6, and you spend a beautiful day in the French Quarter.”

Investigate visitor resources

To reap the biggest rewards, do your homework and take advantage of your local visitors bureau’s promotions. In Washington, D.C., the CVB created a campaign called “Date Nights,” with a database of more than 100 date ideas in and around the city.

Other CVBs have similar promotions, such as Restaurant Week or a “Be a Tourist in Your Hometown” campaign, which helps locals reconnect with their own city. “Check your local CVB’s website,” Lotz recommends. “Many collect local offers so you can find specials quickly and easily. Whether it’s free admission to a museum, discounted hotel and spa offers, free concerts, special prix-fixe menus or events for holidays, there’s always something to do in your city. It just requires a little research.”

Gelber suggests finding a local guidebook (“not the big-name ones, but the ones written by locals”) or a local tour guide (“not of the double-decker bus variety”). One of his favorite websites is cupoflocalsugar.com. “They offer pre-organized experiences, like meeting with a local foodie who can introduce you to the gastronomic experiences in the city,” he says. “These purpose-built experiences expand your knowledge in a way that’s personal and meaningful.”

Think outside your everyday box

This time of year, as tourism slows due to cold weather, there are great deals to be had at local hotels—and they want you to tuck in and enjoy your special day. “Most hotels will offer something like free parking, complimentary drinks, or champagne and strawberries at check-in, for no additional cost, on Valentine’s Day,” Lotz says.

Gelber suggests looking into non-hotel lodging, such as B&Bs and rental units, “which often offer better deals and a better sense of place, especially at the last minute.” Gelber likes airbnb.com and couchsurfing.org, which offer unique places to stay (think apartments, boats, castles and treehouses!). Or, try a home swap on knok.com or an exchange program such as globalfreeloaders.com and hospitalityclub.org.

Look to history to extend your savings

This year, President’s Day falls on the Monday after Valentine’s Day. The long holiday weekend can translate into more deals, especially if your town has a historical or presidential angle.

If you know your city’s historical connections and pay attention to the calendar, you can find some great deals, Gibbs says. “On the East Coast, we’re in the midst of marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, so as those anniversaries hit, there are commemorations in cities throughout the region that not only offer great deals, but also provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences where you can be a part of this history in an unexpected way.”

What’s more romantic than that?

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